Sunday 21 June 2020
Over the last fortnight we have talked more about the Black Lives Matter protests than Covid 19. Not only does this suggest that we are starting to move away from an existence dominated by the corona virus, it also invites reflection upon the world we want to build, as we emerge from many weeks of Lockdown. Do we want life to go ‘back to normal‘ or do we want to create a ‘better normal’?
This week, major British cities continue to see Black Lives Matter marches and the appropriateness of statues and popular culture to the history we want to learn from and value is debated widely. Poverty is also on the news agenda. Manchester United striker, Marcus Rashford, drives a government U-turn over the issue of summer holiday food vouchers for our most disadvantaged children. Twitter takes the decision to permanently ban far-right commentator Katie Hopkins from its platform, for violating the hateful conduct policy. Could we really be heading for a more tolerant and fair society? Whilst I hope so, I fear we may still have a fight on our hands. The ruling classes seem unlikely to share their power toys quite this easily! One battle-ground this week, footballers and MPs, illustrates the challenge.
Small boy and I rejoice over the restart of the football premier league. We order a take-away and tune in for the match, where players wear shirts that display a blue heart badge in tribute to the NHS and on the reverse, in place of names, the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’. Ahead of kick-off, we admire the dignity with which opposing teams observe a minute’s silence, in honour of front line health workers, and then also ‘take the knee’ to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. But it appears that Boris’ boys are not ready to welcome this group of sportsmen into the ranks of influencers any time soon.
Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, dismisses the knee gesture as ‘a symbol of subjugation and subordination’ originating in Game of Thrones. And who can forget the criticism rained upon football clubs, and no other profession, by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, for using the Goverment’s furlough scheme to pay staff?
“Given the sacrifices that many people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS who have made the ultimate sacrifice… I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part.“
By contrast, the chief executive of NHS Charities Together has not only welcomed Premier League players getting together to help the service cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic but has also noted that
“This is what footballers have always been like….What they wanted to do here is come together as players and say ‘NHS, we’re rooting for you, we’re behind you’, and hopefully that can inspire other people to do the same.”
Marcus Rashford epitomises the courage of one young footballer to use his platform to enact positive change in society. So, why the reluctance of our leaders to recognise the contribution that the wider footballing community can undoubtedly make towards a fairer Britain? Many commentators point to class and race issues. At least a third of Premier League players are from BAME backgrounds, well above the UK average. Additionally, Sutton Trust report found that only 5% of British footballers went to private school. The report investigated the educational backgrounds of ‘Britain’s leading people’ – those considered to have influence and prestige. Out of all the sectors, football was the only one where you were less likely to have gone to a private school than the national average. (Source: Novaria Media).
It is food for thought, Rashford describes as our systems as,
” not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked“
Is it the case that, even if you do, our ruling parties will view you as a group less worthy of respect than their more expensively educated peer group? Or see you as a threat to their power and influence and hence an easy target for scapegoating?
As we emerge from Lockdown, the Black Lives Matter movement has momentum, and the ‘undeserving poor’ have some high profile champions. For many, our society seems kinder, united around better values and ready for change. Do any of our leaders however share this conviction, or will they instead want us to steer us back to their normal. Time will tell…